Singing, Hutterite, at Worship

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This article was written in the late 1950s.

Like the delivery of their sermons the congregational singing of the Hutterites of today is also strongly formalized, a practice which undoubtedly goes back to certain usages of the 16th and 17th centuries. Some of its characteristic features were mentioned in the article Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder; some further observations will be briefly summarized here. A. J. F. Zieglschmid reports in a footnote of the Klein-Geschichtsbuch (580, n. 3) that in the singing of hymns during the worship hour the preacher (Diener des Wortes) reads and sings one line of the hymn from the Liederbuch, whereupon the congregation sings this line in unison; then follows the second line in the same fashion, and so forth. Since most of the hymns are extremely long, only a few stanzas are sung. The singing itself is rather devoid of musical beauty; it is not only sung in unison but extremely shrill and loud. The tunes are known by all through oral tradition. The texts are taken from two printed hymnals, the Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder (1914) and Das Kleine Liederbuch (1930). The tunes derived originally from old secular folk tunes (mostly medieval) but they lost most of their melodiousness and freshness by the above described formalization.

There is good reason to ask what has made this overly loud, rather unmusical singing the congregational practice. A good conjecture would be that in the beginning it was introduced intentionally by brethren who were imprisoned and who wanted to be heard both by their fellow brethren in other parts of the jail and by outsiders that they might stop and listen to their testimonies of faith. Jeronimus Käls, martyred at Vienna 1536, reports in one of his epistles from prison that at night the brethren in separate cells sang so loudly that they could hear each other and thus give each other mutual comfort; moreover by so doing they tried to allay their own agony (ME III, 340; also Arch. f. Ref. Gesch. 1929, 80).

Similarly Hans Schmid or Raiffer, martyred at Aachen 1558, wrote to the brethren in Moravia that "once God brought all of us together in jail; there I began to pray and sing as loud as I was able to raise my voice. Thereupon people came running to find out what was going on. The warden (Amtmann) came and threatened that unless we lowered our voices he would never again allow such a meeting. But," he concluded, "the brethren did not heed his words and continued in this loud manner so that everyone [outside] could hear how they stood to each other and how they were giving testimony for each other" (letter unpublished, but text also in part in the Chronik, 388 f.). The Scriptural basis for this attitude was Isaiah 58:1, in Denk's translation: "So lasst uns schreien dass uns der Hals kracht."

All this indicates that congregational singing is neither folk singing nor artistic singing but a testimony to the praise and glory of the Lord.

As to the tunes used, Oliver S. Beltz (a professor at Mission College, Takoma Park, Maryland) made a number of tape recordings of actual Hutterite singing both in Canada and in South Dakota in 1946-1947. His material is now deposited in the Folk Song Collection of the Library of Congress. Transcripts in notation may be found likewise in the Music Section of this Library, and also at Concordia Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. Beltz himself plans to publish his findings both from a musicological point of view and by comparison with earlier studies in this area of "folk music turned sacred music." A certain similarity is noticeable with the singing of the Old Order Amish, but thus far no study of any kind has been undertaken in this direction. The late A. J. F. Zieglschmid is said to have had a manuscript ready dealing with the remarkable phenomenon of tune transfers, but it seems to be lost.

Author(s) Robert Friedman
Date Published 1959

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MLA style

Friedman, Robert. "Singing, Hutterite, at Worship." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 28 Jan 2020.,_Hutterite,_at_Worship&oldid=105349.

APA style

Friedman, Robert. (1959). Singing, Hutterite, at Worship. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 28 January 2020, from,_Hutterite,_at_Worship&oldid=105349.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 531-532. All rights reserved.

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